Death On Eight Legs

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Spider-Verse Week continues with The Black Spider, a killer vigilante who bore a great resemblance to such pulp fiction stars as The Shadow, Black Bat and – natch – The Spider … only with one crucial difference.

While The Black Spider – secretly District Attorney Ralph Nelson, a crime-buster frustrated by red tape – had no compunction against shooting down criminals he generally preferred to intimidate that particular cowardly lot by covering them with poisonous spiders.

To be honest, I find that a lot more intimidating than a guy dressed up like a giant bat.

Although never a headliner, The Black Spider did make 10 appearances as a back-up feature in Ace Periodical’s Super-Mystery Comics. That’s about as much as the Spider-Mobile got, right?

From Super-Mystery Comics vol. 1 #3 (October, 1940), here’s “The Black Spider.” Story and art are uncredited.

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Pretty bad-a$$, but the Black Spider is about as good at hiding his secret identity as Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.

Coming tomorrow: The Spider Widow! She’s not what you expect …

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Working Girl

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Back in the Golden Age, any average Joe or Jane could fight crime as long as they possessed a can-do attitude and a good right hook. No character embodies this fact more than Kay McKay, Air Hostess.

Not only is McKay tough enough to survive a daredevil leap out of an airplane, she even possesses the moxy to fend off a pack of wild man-faced dog creatures. If the ill-fated Christina Ricci vehicle, Pan Am, had half as much action that series might have lasted an entire season.

The untitled story originally appeared in Captain Courageous Comics #6 (Ace Periodicals, March 1942). The art is credited to George Wilson.

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Win Or Lucifer

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A brilliant chess master takes on the Devil, a move that definitely calls the protagonist’s brilliance into question. Happily, there’s no reason to question the well-crafted art of Lou Cameron and Bruno Mastroserio!

The Thirteen Days of Halloween continues with “A Game With Lucifer.” The story originally appeared in Baffling Mysteries #7 (Ace Periodicals, March 1952). The pencils are by Cameron with inks by Mastroserio.

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Coming Tomorrow: Billy Batson is no Harry Potter!!

Stars & Stripes Forever

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The Flag was one of Ace Periodicals’ more obscure heroes, which is saying something when you consider that Magno, Lash Lightning and The Raven weren’t exactly household names.

(Doctor Nemesis, the crime-fighting surgeon, did find a second life decades later at Marvel however … )

The Flag only appeared in five adventures, didn’t have much of a secret identity (the poor guy wasn’t even given a last name) and was clearly the tossed-off product of uncredited writers and artists looking to cash in on the success of Captain America and The Shield.

Yet, I still have some affection for the character because of the crazy back-story and admittedly nifty costume design. Plus, his debut appearance in Our Flag Comics #2 boasted a striking cover by a young artist named Jim Mooney.

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From Our Flag Comics #2 (Ace, October 1941), here’s “Meet The Flag.” The artist and writer are not credited.

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Heads, You Lose!

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Ace Periodicals published a number of fine horror tales that disprove the notion that EC was the only Pre-Code comics company that emphasized quality as well as brutality. Ace’s earlier super-hero efforts, however, were crazy as hell.

The heroes themselves were stock, square-jawed types who stood for truth, justice and The American Way. The villains were another story, though. Ace’s rogues gallery consisted of killer clowns whose blood lust made The Joker look like Bozo, radium-irradiated mummies, vampiric hypnotists and – in today’s offering – a demonic midget little person who animated wax figurines with the condemned souls of hell.

Rudy Palais – who would later leave a significant mark in comics history as a horror illustrator for Harvey –  somehow manages to reign in the insanity with his typically expert art. He would only get better as his work matured.

The untitled story originally appeared Super-Mystery Comics Vol. 5, #2 (Ace Periodicals, Oct. 1945).

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Kind of surprised Wertham never grabbed a hold of this story …

Quoth The Raven …

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The Golden Age had its share of ersatz supermen and bat-men, but publishers were equally anxious to pilfer other sources to fill their comic-books with colorfully clad crime-fighters.

(Superman and Batman weren’t exactly created out of whole cloth themselves. Both have roots in such pulp characters as Doc Savage and The Shadow, and that only represents a fraction of the many factors that influenced the creators of DC’s Worlds’ Finest cash-cows.)

The Green Hornet, created in 1936 for the same Detroit radio station that unleashed The Lone Ranger and Sgt. Preston Of The Yukon to an unsuspecting world, inspired a host of masked men with similar monikers and gimmicks, including The Crimson Avenger, the original original Blue Beetle and the star of today’s tale: The Raven.

Like many Golden Age heroes, the Raven was a police officer who was frustrated by criminals who escape justice via legal loopholes. In an effort to even the playing field, our hero wore a disguise to battle such fiends and redistribute their ill-gotten gains to the city’s poor.

As a result, the Raven was sought by the criminal underworld and the police force, who considered the modern-day Robin Hood a dangerous vigilante. He was aided in his crusade by his chauffeur, Mike – and let’s not get into just how a supposedly honest cop could afford a chauffeur – and girlfriend, Lola Lash, the daughter of the police commissioner.

Created by Robert Turner and Martin Nodell – the artist behind DC Comics’ Green Lantern – The Raven enjoyed a two-year run in various Ace Periodical comics before fading into oblivion.

Today’s tale originally appeared in Lightning Comics vol. 5 #1 (Ace Periodicals, February 1941). The writer and artist are uncredited.

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Hmmm, in a way you could consider this particular adventure the Golden Age equivalent of The Superior Spider-Man. Only this time, justice is served in 12 pages… just the way I like it!

Back To The Future

Halloween is less than a week away, which means it’s time to pull out all the stops and highlight some of my favorite Pre-Code horror stories by some of the genre’s greatest creators.

Our Four-Star Fright Fest begins with Lou Cameron – who may be better known these days as a prolific crime and western novelist. Before making his name in that field, however, he held court at Ace Periodicals as its star artist.

His clean, yet moody, style easily holds its own with any of the famed EC bunch. The following story – which makes about as much sense as any comic-book tale about time travel – is greatly enhanced by his detailed take on the “fifth dimension” that injects the proper amount of surrealism but also remains strangely down to earth.

Based upon this and other, equally striking stories, I could easily imagine Cameron producing classic Silver Age Doctor Strange tales … that is, if the artist hadn’t moved on to greener pastures where he could actually profit from his creations.

“12 Hours To Doom” first appeared in Baffling Mysteries #18 (Ace Periodicals, November 1953). The story was pencilled and inked by Cameron.

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Lightning Strikes

Like many other Golden Age comic-book companies, Ace Periodicals was brought into existence by a pulp magazine publisher who noticed those upstart funny books were ringing in big profits thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman.

Ace rode the super-hero trend as long as it remained popular, but really made its mark with its post-WWII horror, sci-fi, crime and romance titles illustrated by the likes of Lou Cameron.

In fact, the creators behind such Ace titles as Web Of Mystery and Crime Must Pay The Penalty did their jobs so well that the small company found itself prominently featured in Fredric Wertham’s Seduction Of The Innocent.

The following story was published during Ace’s dalliance with the super-hero genre and features two of its more memorable characters: Lash (Originally “Flash,” but changed to avoid confusion with a certain Scarlet Speedster) Lightning and Lightning Girl.

The violence found in Ace’s earlier pulp and later horror titles is well represented, however, and artist Louis Ferstadt tiptoes into Daliesque surrealism in his depiction of the villainous Maestro’s hypnotic powers. Put together, “Die! You Must Die!” easily ranks among the more unusual long-underwear adventures of comics’ Golden Age.

The story originally appeared in Four Favorites #12 (Ace Periodicals, November 1943).

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Tempting Fate

It’s always a pleasure to post a story drawn by Lou Cameron, and this particular comic is a personal favorite.

As an impressionable young’un, I was blown away in the early 197os by Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo’s interpretation of The Spectre. Grim and gritty super-heroes weren’t the flavor of the week back then, so it was exceedingly rare to see a supposed good guy turn an evildoer into a piece of wood and run him through a buzz-saw.

So I was surprised a year or two ago when I first discovered “The Man Who Would Be Fate” in The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics. Here was the Fleisher and Aparo Spectre, albeit in another form, dispensing supernatural justice without shedding a tear. It was a great story that also introduced me to the fine work of Cameron, a horror and crime artist every bit as accomplished as the more famous EC crew.

From The Hand Of Fate #24 (Ace Periodicals, August 1954), here’s “The Man Who Would Be Fate.”